Melissa Etheridge went straight to the vault to kick off her solo show at the Cascade Theatre Tuesday night, emerging on stage without an introduction and grinding out the chords to “Bring Me Some Water” on a 12-string acoustic guitar.
The hit from her 1988 debut album sounded as fresh as ever and so did the 53-year-old rocker’s voice, which filled the Art Deco theater to the brim and induced the first of many whistles and shouts of encouragement from the predominantly female audience.
One look at the stage, with its array of 10 guitars, a 12-string electric mandolin and a grand piano, and it was clear Etheridge meant business. She relied on some technology to create an even bigger sound, using a computerized looping system to add a percussion backdrop to several of her songs.
She picked out a 12-string electric Fender for “Chrome Plated Heart,” also from her self-titled debut, and then offered up “California” in honor of her “This is M.E.” tour being on a swing through the Golden State.
Reports of the devastating Boles fire in Weed on Monday “was the saddest news I heard all day,” Etheridge said, before cracking a smile at the mention of Weed burning. “Couldn’t I at least watch?” she said with a laugh. “Sorry. I’m making Northern California jokes.”
An activist who credits marijuana use with helping her overcome breast cancer, Etheridge has long advocated for legal pot in addition to marriage equality, environmental causes and human rights issues.
Tuesday night belonged to music more than politics, and Etheridge emphasized that by strapping on a double-neck guitar and clicking a harmonica into a brace for the bluesy “Don’t You Need.” Technology, which she acknowledged “isn’t going away,” came into play again as she committed a section of rhythm guitar on the 12-string to a loop and switched to the lower six-string guitar to play a lead.
She retreated to the decidedly low-tech piano for “The Letting Go” before returning to the guitar for the rockin’ “Must Be Crazy For Me.” She followed that up with “A Little Bit of Me” from her latest recording, “This is M.E.” that will be available Saturday on Etheridge’s own label.
More cheers were elicited with a thunderous version of “Come to My Window” before she took the intensity down a notch with “Shadow of a Black Crow.” The song, from 2012’s “4th Street Feeling,” featured some nice work on an electric resonator guitar.
A gregarious sort who smiled and interacted with the audience throughout her show, Etheridge returned to the piano to cover Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me,” explaining that she used to sing the song in bars when its tale of tormented love struck a personal chord. She added that was also the period when you could catch one of her shows for $10.
Today, she said, her life is full of joy. (Etheridge recently married the actress and screenwriter Linda Wallem.) She paused and looked out at the three-quarters full theater and the people who paid between $60 and $80 for their seats, thanked them, and said they were helping the oldest of her four children pay for college.
Etheridge said her children were finally OK with her rock star status, but chide her for being a “stalker.” That served as an introduction to “I Want to Come Over,” which featured a snippet of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.”
The rollicking “Monster” from her brand new album and her hit, “I’m the Only One,” closed out the show and led to a jaw-dropping rendition of “Like the Way I Do” for an encore.
Redding resident and musician Barbara Ward, who had second-row seats, said she was in heaven throughout the show. “It was a pure pleasure from start to finish. From the first growly note to the 15-minute encore, she owned the stage!”
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at email@example.com.